The Flame Alphabet

Ben Marcus, Author
Ben Marcus. Knopf, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-37937-5
Open Ebook - 304 pages - 978-1-84708-623-5
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-08568-8
Paperback - 289 pages - 978-0-307-73997-1
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4640-2281-4
Hardcover - 304 pages - 978-1-84708-624-2
Open Ebook - 219 pages - 978-0-307-95751-1
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Language kills in Marcus’s audacious new work of fiction, a richly allusive look at a world transformed by a new form of illness. Outside Rochester, N.Y., Sam and Claire are a normal Jewish couple with a sullen teenage daughter, Esther. But Esther and other Jewish children begin to speak a toxic form of language, potentially deadly to adults: with “the Esther toxicity... in high flower,” Sam watches in horror as the disease spreads to children of other religions, quarantine zones are imposed, and Claire sickens to the point of death. Heeding the advice of enigmatic prophet LeBov, Sam manufactures his own homemade defenses against his daughter’s speech. But he and Claire are soon forced to abandon Esther in order to save themselves. The novel’s first part plays like The Twilight Zone as a normal community becomes exposed to this mysterious infection. The second part reads like a Kafkaesque nightmare as Sam, separated from Claire, winds up in an isolated research facility, where he is put to work creating a new language that will be immune from the virus. The third part finds Sam living in the woods near his home, where he becomes a haunted creature out of a Yiddish folk tale. Marcus (Notable American Women) proves equally inspired in sketching Sam’s underground religion of “forest Jews” who pray in individual huts and receive sermons via a special gelpack called a listener. Although characterization plays second fiddle to vision here, in LeBov, a silver-tongued, authoritarian, flimflam man, Marcus has retooled a classic American archetype. Biblical in its Old Testament sense of wrath, Marcus’s novel twists America’s quotidian existence into something recognizable yet wholly alien to our experience. (Jan.)
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